The Beginning of the End
The next morning, Tima woke up, her mind racing. The night before, she realized that Aziza was supposed to return to Khment in two days and Tima did not want her daughter coming home when they were under attack from old enemies, especially when the enemies were more diabolical than before. She considered sending a messenger to Aziza and telling her to stay but she had a feeling that such a message would instead send her daughter back to see what was wrong. Sighing, she reached over to wake Atem so she could talk to him, only to find his side of the bed empty. Surprised that he would start a day without her, she got up and went to bathe herself. Once she was clean, her servant came to dress her. To her surprise, a man was with the servant. Recognizing the brown-haired, boyish-looking man as the messenger that Aziza took with her, she smiled at him. "What news do you bring?"
Bowing to the ground to not watch his Queen dress, he started to relay the message. "My Queen, your daughter is happy on her trip, reading a lot of interesting scrolls and meeting nice people. However, she is staying longer than she expected."
Pausing her servant from brushing her hair, Tima looked at the messenger. "How much longer?"
The messenger answered, "She guessed that she would be there for another seven suns longer. They uncovered a hidden room in the library that she wants to study."
Tima sighed in relief. With Aziza staying, she would be able to stay away from the present danger. After the servants finished dressing her, she went to find Atem and tell him the news. But she decided against it when she arrived at the throne room and saw that there was a stone slab being presented. Joining her husband's side, she looked at the slab and gasped: it was Mahad's Ka but it was sadly clear that Mahad joined his very soul with his Ka. Ignoring Seth demanding to know if the Sennen Ring was stolen as well, Atem took a step forward to the stone slab. Though upset that he lost a priest he considered a very close friend, he was determined to not let Mahad's sacrifice go to waste. He then snapped back to reality when he heard the Royal Court trying to figure out what to do. Seth wanted to search the tomb right away both to confirm Bakura and Yima's deaths and to retrieve the lost Sennen Ring but Karim and Aknadin were worried about searching right away because there was the possibility that the two thieves were either waiting for the tomb to open so they could escape or, worse yet, had already escaped with Diabound's power and took the Sennen Ring with them. Frustrated, especially when Isis revealed that she could not see the thieves' future (giving validity to the possibility that the thieves took the Sennen Item), Seth was about to ask Atem for permission to take the Scorpion Clan and scour the outskirts of the town while Isis would use her Ka Spiria to search beyond the town when there was a commotion at the door. Everyone looked up to see that it was Mana and Heba being blocked from entering. While the guards were willing to let the prince through, they did not want to allow access to Mana. Knowing how close they were with the fallen priest, Atem turned to the guards. "It's all right. Let them through."
Obeying their Pharaoh, the guards allowed the two in. Heba and Mana walked up to the stone slab, in shock at what they were seeing. Heba shook his head in disbelief, having flashbacks of his memories with Mahad: talking with him, studying magic with him, and just spending time together. He consider the priest a close friend, almost like a big brother, and he spent most of the night before awake and praying that Mahad would return. Tears starting to form in his eyes as Mana next to him collapsed to her knees and cried out, having taken the news the hardest since the fallen priest was the closest thing the woman had to a father. Starting to cry himself, Heba lowered down to his knees as well, his eyes never moving from the stone slab. Feeling her heart break, Tima went down to their levels and touched their backs. Sniffling, Mana looked at Atem and begged, "Please…let me see my master again."
Heba looked at Atem, hoping that the Pharaoh would comply. "Father? You can call spirits from the stone slabs. So…will you?"
Atem hesitated. While he knew that he could awaken Mahad, he did not think it was a good idea. Sensing his thoughts, Tima tried to explain, "Mahad is probably hurt from the battle so it is best that he rest now."
Heba understood but felt a little stab when Isis added, "Forgive me but, even if the Pharaoh were to summon Mahad, your heka is not strong enough to see spirits yet, Mana. You still do not have a Ka yet, do you?"
Mana said nothing but she knew that the older woman was right. Heba cursed himself as well, knowing that, while his magic was stronger than Mana's and would let him see Mahad, he still did not have a Ka yet either and he hated the reminder. Seeing Heba's look, Tima told him and Mana, "For now, you two must train harder. That is what Mahad would have wanted…and it will be the perfect way to honor him."
Swallowing his tears, Heba looked at Mana. "We'll get stronger…together."
Mana looked up at Heba and nodded as Atem straightened his body and looked at Seth. "Find them."
Seth bowed his head in respectful obedience and left with Itami to gather the Scorpion Clan. Just before he came upon the warriors who were training the guards, he saw someone watching him from a nearby pillar. Pausing, he looked at Itami. Give us a moment. Sensing the person as well, Itami's eyes sparkled before she flew off to give them a little privacy. Closing his eyes, he smirked and chuckled. "Ever after all these years, you still follow me like that…" he opened his eyes and turned around, "…Tikali."
Stepping out from behind the column, Tikali smiled softly and went up to him. "Forgive me, my darling, but I couldn't help but overhear as I was passing by. Is it true…about Lord-Priest Mahad?"
Seth sighed and nodded. "It is true…unfortunately."
Tikali lowered her head and said a small prayer. While she did not get a chance to get to know Mahad personally, she knew he was a good man and very dedicated to the protection of the royal family, especially the Pharaoh and prince. Looking around, Seth murmured to Tikali, "May I speak with you…privately?"
Surprised by the request, Tikali nodded and followed Seto to a corner of the courtyard. Before she could ask what was wrong, Seth opened with, "I believe Bakura and Yima are still alive. We saw that they could escape through walls when they first attacked…and I'm afraid that is what happened to them. Also…the gods may strike me down for this but Mahad died in vain. To add insult to injury, he's made the situation worse."
Tikali's eyes widened in surprise. "Made it worse? But how?"
Seth quickly hushed her, not wanting anyone to hear her. After looking over his shoulder and seeing no one there, he turned back to her and opened up to her. "I cannot help but feel this terrible feeling. If Bakura were to put on the Sennen Ring, his evil alone would grow and I fear that Yima's evil would grow due to contact. They will become something that we the Priests can't handle…even with the Pharaoh's help. My love…it could mean the fall of the Kingdom."
Tikali could not believe what she was hearing. Were Bakura and Yima that dangerous? Hearing her silence, Seth turned to tell Itami that their talk was done when he felt Tikali hug him tightly. A little surprised, Seth welcomed the hug with a hug of his own. But he was even more surprised by what came out of her mouth: "Don't say such things, Seth…" Seeing him about to protest, Tikali shushed him. "God has His plans. It is our duty to find out what those plans are and how to react to them and our thinking negatively like this could affect how we react."
Seth took a moment to stare at his wife in surprise. Even after being with her for about eighteen years, she still sometimes surprised him with her knowledge and attitude towards life, especially after her faith was all but destroyed when she was younger. Seeing his look, she hugged him tighter and added, "Just…be careful, my darling. Those two are dangerous…and I cannot imagine my life without you."
Seth smirked and cupped her cheek, making her look at him. "Tikali…have you forgotten the promise you and I made to each other when Mesu was born? We promised each other that we'd be with each other for all eternity. That promise was valid then…and it's valid to this day."
Tikali smiled, remembering that moment they shared after their firstborn was welcomed into the world. Knowing that he had to get going, he leaned down and kissed her deeply, a kiss she happily responded to. When they parted, Seth stated, "Keep an eye on your mother today, boys."
Surprised to hear that, Tikali looked behind her and saw her sons peeking out from behind a pillar. Mesu blew his bangs out of his eyes. "Man…and I thought we were quiet enough to sneak up on you."
Noa looked at his big brother. "Are you kidding? You know that we will never be quiet enough to startle Father."
Seth smirked with pride as the boys came over to their parents. Hearing Itami telling him that the warriors were ready, the High Priest turned to his family. "Watch over your Mother, Mesu, Noa. I shall return later tonight."
Mesu and Noa nodded as Seth turned and got Itami before going to the warriors and organizing a search party. Watching his father, Noa asked, "Did you tell him?" Tikali shook her head, surprising her firstborn. "Why not, Mother?"
Tikali smiled and touched her boys' shoulders. "Seth has enough stress on his plate right now. The last thing we should do is give him something else to stress about." Mesu tried to protest but Noa shushed him, agreeing with their mother.
That night, Heba walked to his room, his mind lost in thought. When Seth and the warriors came back, they announced that, sadly, their search was fruitless. Not wanting the warriors nor Seth to be fighting fatigue when Bakura and Yima attacked again, Atem had them retire for the night, especially since he knew that the Scorpion Warriors had a select group that patrolled at night. While he was grateful that everyone was helping, Heba still could not shake the feeling that there was more that he could be doing. He wanted to summon a Ka the next time Diabound appeared but he knew the likelihood of that happening was very slim, especially with his teacher all but dead. Pausing at his door, he lowered his head and mourned his fallen master again. Even if Mahad was now a spiritual guardian of the palace, he was unable to contact and guide Heba and the crowned prince knew that he needed the magical priest's guidance now more than ever. Sniffling and wiping his eyes, he entered his room and jumped at who was there. "Merina?"
Having climbed up a rope to the balcony, Merina and Torru approached the prince gingerly. The Scorpion Princess could see the red around his eyes and it broke her heart to see him this way. Telling Torru to wait on the balcony, she went to him and started to rub his back. "It's going to be okay…I know how it feels to lose someone very close to you."
Remembering that she lost Caeris, Heba looked up at her as he rubbed his eye and concealed a small yawn. "Merina…"
Seeing the yawn, Merina smiled and led him to bed. "You know what you need? You need some sleep. You heard the Pharaoh: he doesn't want anyone tired in battle."
Heba sat on his bed and muttered, "Like I would be of any use to anyone in battle." Seeing Merina's confused look, Heba sighed and started to explain. "Merina, think about the Ka battle that happened when Bakura and Yima attacked. Everyone has powerful Kas, my Mother's was even with Yima's…and my Father can control the three gods that protect the palace itself. But…even if all that powerful blood running through my veins…I have yet to produce a Ka of my own." Sighing, he lowered his head as he started to feel even more disgusted with himself. "I am sick of relaying on everyone else. I should be able to defend myself in such a battle…or, at the very least, fight side by side with Father. If I can't even produce a simple Ka…what hope is there for me to be a great Pharaoh like Father…?"
Having not realized that Heba did not have a Ka (she assumed that Heba kept his Ka back because Atem summoned a god), Merina sat next to him and put her arm around him. "So you're a late bloomer; that's no reason to doubt that you will not be a great Pharaoh."
Heba looked up, revealing his teary eyes. "How can you say that? I've been trained to take over the throne my whole life. I was even able to touch a Ka when I was very small. And, with Father being the chosen Pharaoh to be able to control the seemingly uncontrollable gods…"
Merina sighed and, after bowing her head and apologizing, smacked Heba. Heba looked at her with wide eyes as she blushed a little. "Sorry…but you needed that." Seeing his still shocked face, she smiled and kissed him gently before laying her head on Heba's lap. "Just because you've been trained and you can't do it now doesn't mean you can't do it at all. Everyone has their moment to shine. Besides, you don't need your own Ka to help. As Prince, you have your own way to helping: not only are you a great diplomat, you can be there lending support and leading troops and warriors like Seth does."
Heba smiled and nodded, feeling better that Merina was talking to him. Before he could verbally thank her, she added, "After all, sometimes late bloomers become the greatest warriors. Look at Demostrate." Heba raised his eyebrow as Merina giggled and explained, "There's a reason he has all those tattoos. When the clan first met him, he had skills and proclaimed that he would be the best Scorpion Warrior of all time. For five moon cycles, he kept picking fights and training with everyone in the clan. He kept getting beat up and bloodied every time but kept going until the point of exhaustion. He finally defeated Razmig, our best warrior, and earned his place. Each tattoo covers a scar and he wears them with pride, saying that they show how far he's come."
Heba smirked and murmured, "No wonder Scorpio told me to talk to Demostrate."
Sitting up, Merina smiled and rubbed his back. "So stop beating yourself. You already defeated that side of you so banish it from your mind for good."
Heba smiled and looked at her before kissing her gently. Pulling back, they looked into their eyes and knew this was the night. Kissing again, they deepened the connection as Heba leaned into her and touched her chest. But it was not to be: there was a loud scream outside. They looked up and raced to the balcony where Torru was waiting. The gate that led into the palace courtyard was burning and the grounds were being swarmed by hundreds of criminals. Heba looked at these seemingly random group when Merina hissed, figuring it out. "I bet those bastards were hired by the thieves!"
She went to go down the rope but a masked man with wild hair noticed the rope wiggling and lit it ablaze with his torch. Heba quickly pulled Merina back and removed the hook from the balcony. "We need to get down to the gate. That's where everyone will be."
Merina nodded and then smirked as she noticed the Scorpion Warriors charging the criminals. "Hopefully, the boys will leave some for your guards to have fun with."
Heba smirked and led her to the door that led to the courtyard. To their relief, Jouno was already there with Seth, giving orders to the guards to drive the criminals out of the courtyard. The Royal Court and couple arrived a moment later and Tima asked, "What's going on?"
Noticing the phoenixes up in the air, Jouno got a message from Earthzina and reported, "We have groups of criminals attacking every side of the palace. It's a divide and conquer attack."
Kalim noted, "This is too much of a coincidence…"
Merina agreed. "I agree. I think Bakura and Yima hired them to attack us."
Aknadin stiffened a little; now his feelings of uneasiness towards the Wedju Shrines was starting to make sense. Not noticing how uneasy his eldest priest appeared, Atem gave the Royal Court their assignments: with the exception of Isis who would stay behind to study the future and see if the thieves came into view, each priest and Mesu as well were to take guards and warriors and stop the wave of criminals. The Pharaoh was about to send them out when Aknadin took a chance and volunteered, "I will watch the Wedju Shrines. If, for any reasons, any criminals break through the line of defense, we don't want them attacking the Kas."
Not finding the request odd, Atem nodded and, as Aknadin left for the shrines, said, "Then Merina and I will take care of this group right here." He turned to Heba as Tikali and Noa came out to see what the commotion was and said, "Look after everyone here. You are the last line of defense if we should fail."
Heba smiled softly and nodded, glad that Atem had a good reason to keep him behind. "Yes, sir."
Tima nodded and hugged Heba from behind, glad to be under her son's protection. But, as everyone left to get rid of the attacking criminals, the sense of responsibility that Heba felt left because he suddenly found himself struck with a bad feeling. He did not know if it was his inner voice telling him this or if it was prophetic but he had the feeling that, if he did not go and join the fight, he would never see Merina again. Wanting to proof the feeling wrong, Heba started to leave but Tima reached out and grabbed his wrist. "No, Heba! You must stay here! If you go out there…"
There was worry in her eyes and Heba, thanks to the feeling and his doubt still resting in his head, took the worry the wrong way. "Mother, are you worried that I won't come back because I'm too weak to survive the fight?"
Tima and Tikali were shocked at Heba's question. Tima shook her head. "No, that's not it at all. I just…I can't lose my only son. As powerful as you are…I can't take that risk."
Tikali agreed. "Besides, you are next in line for the throne. If, God forbid, something were to happen to Atem, you would have to step up and take care of the kingdom."
Accepting the answers, Heba was about to say something when he saw the look on Noa's face. He then realized the truth: even if the women had faith in Heba's abilities, Noa did not. Hearing the doubtful voice creep inside his head again, he asked, "You don't believe in me, do you, Noa?"
Tikali and Tima looked at Noa and noticed his look. Not wanting to believe that her son doubted the prince, Tikali asked, "You believe in Heba and his abilities, right?"
Noa took his time to consider his answer. While he knew that Heba had magical abilities, the scholar also knew that the prince did not have a Ka. Noa had yet to reveal that he had a Ka himself; albeit, it was simply a big boat but it was a Ka nonetheless. He figured that if he, a mere scholar, could produce a Ka and Heba, the prince, could not, there was little to no hope for him. However, seeing everyone waiting for his reaction, the teenager asked, "Would you prefer a lie or the truth?"
Hurt by the answer, Heba left in a huff. Tima tried to stop her son but he moved too fast for her to grab him. Shaking her head, Tikali flicked her son's head. "What were you thinking, answering that way?"
Noa shrugged. "The prince can't produce a Ka; I can. What does that tell you?"
Tima sighed and looked at Noa, deciding to finally reveal the truth. "Then you don't know your prince as well as you think you do. Heba does have a Ka…and it's been buried inside him when he was little thanks to Mahad."
Noa and Tikali looked at the Queen in surprise. Tikali asked, "Why didn't you tell Heba? You know how hurt he's been with believing that he doesn't have one."
Tima lowered her gaze and said, "Because his Ka is dangerous. Mahad saw how dangerous it could be if Heba let it out so the priest sealed it away with Atem and my permission. That's why Mahad was always around Heba: to make sure the seal wouldn't break. If Heba were to let it out…"
Noa started to feel bad that he doubted Heba's power and turned to go find Heba to apologize but he and the women were surprised by what they saw: Heba was riding out on his horse with his sword at his side and a bow and arrows on his back. Tima called out to her son but he ignored her, both wanting to prove Noa wrong and to see why he had this dreaded feeling. Hearing Tima calling out to him, he did not look back. 'Forgive me, Mother…but I have to go."
Just outside the gates, the guards and Scorpion Warriors were battling the criminals, keeping them away from the gates and keeping them from escaping to the town. To their delight, the criminals were skilled only with their fists and daggers and, therefore, were being killed left and right by the swords and arrows. Even Torru and Tarra were helping out, attacking criminals left and right from the sky. Right in the center of the battle, Merina slashed a few down and looked around. While the criminals were not very good at defending themselves against the warriors and guards, there were so many of them, as if two were joining the fight for every one that was slain; not only that but she could not help but continue to believe that they were there to distract them from something else. With her distracted, she did not notice the bearded man about to stab her in the back until she heard a familiar voice call out her name and an arrow whizzed past her head, hitting the criminal. Looking up in surprise, Merina saw that it was Heba on his horse. Killing another criminal, she demanded, "Heba, what are you doing here?!"
Heba was about to answer when a spear was thrown at Heba's horse, causing it to buck and throw Heba off. Thanks to his experience with falling off horses, the prince managed to land on his feet right in front of three criminals. They were about to attack the prince but Merina grabbed three arrows and shot and killed them. Getting his sword, Heba started to make his way to Merina. When they were back to back, Heba stated, "You're fighting for my home! I must do the same!"
Merina protested, "What about your mother? And Tikali and Noa. Who's protecting them?"
Heba decided not to answer that. While he knew that he should not have left Tima like that, he knew that Noa was able to defend himself and the women; plus, he did not want to worry Merina with his dreaded feeling. With them back to back, they cut down every criminal that came their way. Both their fathers saw that they were there and started to head to them, wanting to both protect them and get them to safer grounds. After taking a second, Heba broke away from Merina for a split second to come to Demostrate's aid. But breaking away from Merina made him a target for a criminal who got a hold of a guard's sword. Seeing the prince, he threw the sword at Heba. Neither the prince nor Demostrate saw the sword coming but Merina did and pushed the prince out of the way. Looking up, Heba's eyes grew wide at what he saw: the sword was stuck in Merina's stomach. "No!"
Seeing the sword as well, Demostrate and the rest of the Scorpion Warriors went after the warrior who threw it for vengeance on him slaying the princess as Merina fell. She did not land on the ground as Heba grabbed her and held her close. Feeling the connection severed, Torru looked down and screeched in sorrow. He could tell, even from the distance, that this was a wound that was too severe for him to heal with his tears. With the warriors and guards taking care of the criminals, Atem with Tarra on his shoulder and Scorpio approached the two and could not believe what they were seeing. Atem and Tarra lowered their heads in sorrow as Scorpio felt his heart breaking. Merina looked up at Heba and smiled with a bloody mouth. "A-Are you…okay…Heba?"
Heba was close to freaking out, in shock from what happened. "Hang on, Merina! We'll save you! Torru, where are you?!"
Merina seemed to sense that this was a lethal wound as she said, "I'm sorry…Heba…I-I guess…w-we won't…get to have…that…marriage fight…after all…"
Heba shook his head, refusing to believe it. "Don't say that! We can heal you! Tarra! Please!"
Tarra looked away, her eyes shimmering with sadness. Seeing this, Heba's heart broke again as tears started to spill. Merina smiled weakly and reached up to touch Heba's cheek with her bloody hand. "Don't cry…"
Heba shook his head and took her hand. "Please…don't leave me! You can't!"
Merina whispered that she loved Heba and, with those last words, her eyes became dull and her hand became limp. Feeling her death, Torru gave a sorrowful cry as his body surrounded with flames and reduced him to ashes. Heba was in shock that the love of his life was dead. Atem was about to get off his horse to comfort Heba when he noticed a black aura surrounding his son. Realizing what it was, he called out, "Everyone, run! Take cover!"
Scorpio looked at the Pharaoh through his teary eyes, wondering why he was freaking out, when he felt a shiver go down his spine. He looked at the prince and saw that Heba's head was lowered so that his eyes were shadowed and something was coming out of him. Too spooked and depressed to move, he and everyone watched as the black form took shape. It was a huge black dragon, even bigger than Seth's White Dragon, and its wings, arms, neck, sides and legs, and tail were covered with red, glowing orbs. Scorpio was about to ask what was going on when Atem whispered, "The seal is broken."
Thanks to Mahad's sacrifice, the seal around Heba's Ka was cracked and, thanks to Merina's death, the Ka was released. Unaware of what was above him, Heba threw his head back and screamed in sorrow. In response, red beams of light shot from each orb and destroyed everyone save Atem, Scorpio, and those behind them. Protected by their familiar bonds, the two adults watched in awed horror at the power of Heba's Ka. Seeing it for the first time, Atem now realized why Mahad was so afraid of it, especially since the beams of light could not differentiate friend and foe. Exhausted and heartbroken, Heba lowered his head into Merina's neck and started to sob violently. Its energy spent, Heba's Ka cried out in sorrow as well as it disappeared back into Heba. Having survived by being behind Atem, Jouno went over to Heba and closed Merina's eyes. "I'm sorry, kid…"
Heba was too depressed to hear him. Looking around for a split second and seeing that Heba's Ka killed most of his tribe as well as the criminals, Scorpio said to Atem, "If it pleases you, my Pharaoh…I would like to give my daughter our traditional funeral…and I would like Heba to be a part of it."Atem nodded as Scorpio got off his horse and helped Heba stand up, keeping Merina in the prince's arms. They started to head inside to perform the funeral ceremony when they heard a loud painful scream coming from the Wedju Shrines.